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Cemetery Survey

At 10am on Friday, December 7, 2018, Dr. Molly Cannon of Utah State University will conduct a geophysical survey at the Brigham City Cemetery in partnership with the cemetery and the Brigham City Museum of Art & History.

(In case of rain or other inclement weather, the survey may be postponed until noon. Please check with the museum if you are concerned there has been a delay.)

The Museum Director and Curator, Kaia Michaelis, will be on hand to discuss the project for those who wish to observe. 

The purpose of the survey is to explore the urban legend that a section of the Brigham City Cemetery is not used for (modern) burials because it is a mass grave for Chinese Transcontinental Railroad workers who died of cholera.

The survey will not include any digging, but will use ground penetrating radar and magnetic gradiometry to explore if there is something in the rumored triangle of the cemetery. The survey will provide non-destructive imagery of subsurface archeological features. While the survey will not provide detailed imagery of anything found, it will indicate whether there is something buried there.

The legend, while often repeated, is unlikely to be true. There are several historical facts that would seem to contradict it. Many of the Chinese people who worked on the railroad had deals with the Central Pacific that if they died, their bodies would be returned to China. In practice, this often meant that they were initially buried near where they died, and their remains were later exhumed, placed on a train to San Francisco, and then shipped back to China. Further, there were no documented outbreaks of cholera on Utah portions of the railroad construction (although there was a Smallpox outbreak in early 1869). And finally, while there is some evidence that Utahns were less prejudiced against Chinese workers than others in the United States, it seems unlikely a small Mormon town would have allowed the bodies of Chinese workers who died of a poorly understood disease to be brought to town for burial.

This project, and the upcoming exhibition The Spike at 150: Myths and Realities, have been made possible, in part, by funding from Spike 150 and the Utah Department of Heritage & Arts. The exhibition will include information from this survey.

The museum is located at 24 North 300 West. Hours of operation are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Friday and 1 to 5 p.m. on Saturday. The Brigham City Museum of Art & History is northern Utah’s cultural hub, offering temporary exhibitions on art (contemporary and historical) and history. The museum is a department of Brigham City Corporation and receives additional support from the Box Elder Museum Foundation.